d&b gets the habit in the Hague

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Sister Act was one of those films from the 1990s that simply cried out to be translated onto the live stage as a musical. Packed full of crowd pleasing numbers with their roots based firmly in the 60s Motown traditions and production values, the film grossed nearly $240,000,000 in 1992. Wind the clock forward a decade and Sister Act as a musical has been performed worldwide since its debut at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2006. In 2013, it was the turn of the AFAS Circus Theatre in Den Hague, Holland to host the story of the funky singing nuns.

Now nearly a century old, the AFAS Circus Theatre started life as a three hundred and sixty degree performance space. The Dutch media tycoon and theatrical producer, Joop van den Ende had the theatre converted to a proscenium arch venue about fifteen years ago to accommodate The Phantom of the Opera and since then the theatre has staged a series of musicals, from Miss Saigon to The Lion King. As a consequence of the conversion, the room, with a capacity of approximately two thousand, is not the easiest of spaces in which to achieve clarity of sound for all.

Sound designer Gareth Owen explains how he approached the challenge. “The epiliptical shape of the space combined with lots of highly reflective surfaces make echoes and slap back the default acoustic of the room. I would classify it as a very, very difficult space.” So, on to the solution, “Well, it was always going to be a d&b audiotechnik loudspeaker system. As sound designer it was my choice and I suppose I’ve grown up using d&b. I always get the results I need in the theatrical environment and whenever I’ve experimented with other products I have always been disappointed. We did extensive site surveys of the venue and decided that a full overhaul of the room’s acoustic profile was necessary. By treating as many of the walls and ceilings as possible we made huge inroads into correcting these problems. Also, knowing that I had the precision dispersion of the V-Series and T-Series line arrays at my disposal gave me confidence that we could achieve the right result.”

Using the newest version of ArrayCalc that allows for point source additions, Owen set about finalising his design with the help of associate designer, Olly Steel and Steve Jones from d&b audiotechnik’s Education and Application Support department. “The main PA consisted of a combination of V8 and V12 speakers from the V-Series while the side hangs and the centre delay were T10s from the T-Series. I opted for the little E-Series to do the jobs on the out fills, front fills, side balcony fill and the delays while the surround sound was courtesy of a couple of Q10s. For the low end we went for V-SUBs supported by a few J-INFRA subwoofers.”

“From that point it really was a team effort to complete everything in time. Chris Mace, Production Sound Engineer, did the full install, supervising the whole project through from initial concept to opening night. The acoustic treatments had taken more time than we had planned and the opening date was a fixed immovable point so there was no doubt we were under a certain amount of pressure. The redoubtable folks from Orbital Sound in London supplied the entire system and then it was down to the set designers who helped us keep all the speakers invisible whilst still able to do their job efficiently: no mean feat. We managed to achieve our objective of hiding everything from eyesight whilst still expanding the performance space out into the auditorium.”

The show opened in March this year to reviews that were “About as good as you could ask for,” as Owen puts it. “We were on every TV channel in the Netherlands! Marc Ewald is the FOH engineer and has made a brilliant job of ensuring the design produces the best possible audio experience for everyone in the audience every night. Balancing the vocals with the orchestra, which is a mixture of live music and playback, is a very tricky challenge.”

Like most musical productions of this scale, there is not a specific closing date for the show although it will be in situ for at least a year. After that, the audio system will be removed and it will be up to the next designer to conquer the challenges of the AFAS Circus Theatre. Whoever that is will have an awful lot to live up to.

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